Mother, daughter graduate together from John Wood Community College

Dakota Turkle, left, and her mother Tracy Marlow work on final projects in the computer lab at John Wood Community College recently. Both are graduating this year. (H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)
Posted: May. 17, 2013 10:28 pm Updated: Jun. 8, 2013 1:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Tracy Marlow and her daughter, Dakota Turkle, have been through a lot together.

They took their mother-daughter relationship to a new level Friday when both donned caps and gowns for John Wood Community College's annual commencement exercises.

Marlow received an associate's degree in office technology and graphic design. Turkle is getting an associate's degree in early childhood education. She still has to complete a teaching internship next fall, but she has finished all other coursework requirements and was eligible to take part in Friday's graduation ceremony.

Graduating together was a thrill for both of them -- especially because Turkle had to overcome serious health issues in recent years. Turkle persevered with her education so she could graduate in the same year as her mother.

"I'm loving this, actually," Turkle said. "I've waited for this day."

Marlow, the mother of three daughters, said she always wanted to go to college to help further her education and career opportunities. She also wanted to set a good example for her girls.

"I had promised myself that I was going to graduate college and show my daughters that it doesn't matter how old you are. I just want them to go back and get their degrees," Marlow said. "I cannot tell them they need to do this if I am not willing to do it."

Marlow works full-time as a cashier at Home Depot and has a side business with a friend involving freelance photography and graphic design. She hopes to use her degree as a springboard for expanding her design-related career.

Turkle hopes eventually to land a job as a teacher, but first she will need to earn a bachelor's degree. Once she finishes her internship this fall, she plans to sit out a year before resuming her education.

"I'm wanting to catch up on hospital bills," she said, noting how several surgeries in recent years have caused medical bills to pile up. "So my main priority is to pay those off."

Turkle's health ailments began surfacing in 2006 when she started having severe migraine headaches while living in Oregon, where she spent 14 of her 22 years. She later developed vision problems. Eventually, doctors determined she had intercranial hypertension -- a condition in which the cerebrospinal fluid pressure inside the skull becomes dangerously high.

Turkle had to have an emergency craniotomy, which involved removing a portion of her skull to allow physicians to take out some of the fluids and relieve the pressure.

She subsequently had two other less-invasive brain procedures to drain more fluid and to safeguard the optic nerves in both eyes so her vision wouldn't be threatened by any future pressure buildups.

All of these procedures knocked Turkle off her feet for extended periods of time. They also caused short-term memory loss and even, she fears, long-term memory loss.

However, Turkle kept going back to school because she was determined to earn at least an associate's degree to help her land a good-paying job down the road. After moving to Quincy to live with her mother in 2010, Turkle enrolled at JWCC to continue her post-secondary education.

Her perseverance now puts her on the cusp of receiving that associate's degree -- as soon as she finishes her internship.

"I have a strong will and the stubbornness not to give up," she said. "I knew what I wanted, and giving up was just not an option."

Marlow said she is glad her daughter stayed in school and continued her efforts to earn a degree. She knows it's been a major challenge for her.

"I am so proud of her for what she has overcome," Marlow said. "That's my daughter. She's determined."

Marlow and Turkle actually started out at JWCC together with the same major -- early childhood education. They even had several classes together early on, but Marlow decided her sore back wouldn't be strong enough to work with young children on a regular basis. She switched her educational sights to focus on graphic arts and office technology.

Mother and daughter continued to study together while striving to keep each other motivated. They would spend long hours in the JWCC computer lab working on their homework assignments.

"I think I've forgotten what free time is," Marlow said.